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2005: The Rangefinder Year that was…
by Tom Abrahamsson of Rapidwinder.com
In spite of doomsday prognosticators forecasting the imminent death of film cameras, 2005 saw a lot of new lenses and cameras showing up. In the 60’s you waited for 2 years (Photokina is only bi-annually) for new lenses and cameras and you drooled over a new body or a new lens for your Leica M2 or M3 or for your Nikon S3/SP. Living on crackers and recycled teabags (three runs, with the last one squeezed with a spoon) you accumulated enough money to buy this latest offering). In 2005 we saw at least four rangefinder bodies (Leica MP3, Bessa R2A, Bessa R3A and the Zeiss Ikon) and 7-8 lenses showing up – and this was in a non-photokina year! My personal cache of lenses in 2005 includes the 5 Japanese made lenses for the Zeiss Ikon camera, the 21, 25, 28, 35 and 50 as well as the Summicron 75/2 Aspherical, the 40/1,4 both in Multicoated and Single coated version and a unique 35/1,2 in Nikon rangefinder mount. Camera bodies include the Zeiss Ikon in black and the R3A in green. Of course there was a small increase in the “old” stuff too – another couple of M2’s, more Nikon S2’s and another S3 as well as a Nikon M. Thanks to Stephen I also got a 35/1,8 Nikkor from a 2005 SP. The year was not bad for glass and metal all in all!
When I got the Voigtlander Bessa R3A my first thought was: best finder ever even though it lacked the 35 frames. My 75/2 Aspheric is more or less wedded to it as it has the frames for this focal length sitting there in splendid isolation. No more confusion with 50/75 frames in the M6/MP! As the year went on more rumors about the Zeiss Ikon surfaced, but there seemed to be problems with deliveries and nobody could tell me when it would be available. In December I got mine. The R3A was moved down a notch, second best finder of ANY rangefinder ever!
Here follows a non scientific opinion of these new “toys."
Voigtlander Bessa R3A
The R3A has seen a lot of use in 2005. It has a very good finder system, second only to the Zeiss Ikon, but it has the added feature that it has the 75 frame in splendid isolation. It is a Bessa with its slightly “clunky” shutter compared to an M camera. It is quieter than the early Bessa’s but you can still hear the mechanical shutter. It works well though and it goes into the camera bag whenever I use the 75’s or even when I use the 50/1,4 Aspherical Summilux. It is still a bargain compared with ZI and the MP/M7. You can buy lots of lenses and film for the difference!
This is one of the lenses that many are saying why bother, at least until they try it! The two versions look the same but they are markedly different, The MC Multi-coatedversion is a good substitute for a 35 Summicron or old style Summilux. Nice and sharp with good tonal rendition. In its delivered form it kicks in the 50 frame of a Leica M or ZI ( the R3A has the actual 40 mm frame) but a couple of minutes with a jewelers file or a Dremel grinder can make it show the 35 frame. The 50 frame shows me too little of what the lens sees and I rather take my chances with the 35 frame. Rangefinders are not designed for ultra precise framing anyway.
The 40/1,4 SC Single Coated is a different kettle of fish altogether. It is designed to be a “soft” lens wide –open. Not soft as in out-of-focus soft, but a lower contrast and a flat rendition of tones. Once you stop it down it is sharp while still giving the lower contrast. It is the kind of lens you can use for portraits of people “of a certain age” as it smoothes out the wrinkles of an experienced life. Mr Kobayashi made a “Universal Nokton” some years ago as a prototype. This lens had enhanced optical aberrations and “controlled” flare. I had the opportunity to shoot with it and it was a very interesting concept. There was a distinct “glow” around the subject at f1,5 and f2 and a marked softening of the image. It was decided that it was too radical for production even though Tuulikki, my wife, claimed that the baby-boomers would snap it up instantly. When you hit a more elevated age, you don’t really want razor sharp rendition of your features! The Single-Coated 40/1,4 does exhibit a bit of that quality, although not as dramatic as the Universal Nokton.
Leica M 75/2 Aspherical Summicron
It took 25 years to get this lens! In 1981 I got one of the first 75/1,4 Summiluxes and I fell in love with the way it handled low light. Combine it with a 35/1,4 and you had a low light package second to none. The Noctilux does not make the cut in my book although I have seen spectacular work done with it, but I never got along with it. Like the Noctilux, the 75/1,4 is not an easy lens to use. There is no margin of error here. The 75/2 is much easier to handle and it has a remarkable floating element for close up. I keep finding myself leaning in to the image much tighter than before. It will probably be hailed as a landmark lens in Leica’s line up. It is that good.
I have been a devoted Leica M user for more than 45 years (I still think the M2 is the apex of Leica camera design), but I have that urge to try other stuff. The Nikon RF was not common in Europe in late 50’s and early 60’s. Now and then you met shooters from US and occasionally from Japan with these cameras. Weird stuff, focused backwards and they had copied the Contax focusing and lens mount. But they had some great glass, but the limited availability and service kept us hammering away with the M’s. Slowly over the years I have accumulated a fairly large stash of Nikon RF bodies (13 at the moment + the Bessa R2S) and a lot of lenses. It is a different style of shooting than with the M, focusing is a bit slower, but I find that the mid-range (8-15ft) is more precise than with the M. Lenses are smaller and bodies are a bit lighter. It is possible to carry 3 bodies with 21/35/50 lenses and still move freely. Loading is another three hand job, just as with the Leica. Those strange marks on the Leica base plates and the Nikon backs are not dents from hard use; they are teeth marks from holding these while reloading
This year I added a couple of more bodies to my Nikon RF stash. A 1950 Nikon M with matching lens, a 50/1,4. The M and S has one redeeming quality, you can always identify which body you used as the negative is 24x34 mm. Plenty of space between the negatives on the roll
Nikon Japan did fuel the collectors with the S3 2000 replica and I traded some stuff and got two of them, one chrome and one black and in 2005 they released the SP 2005 with a remake of the 35/1,8, a legendary lens in the 60’s (deservedly so too). I had no great interest in the camera per se, but the lens was intriguing as I already have an early 35/1,8. The chances of finding one of these new lenses were slim to none, but Stephen helped me out and now I have both the old and the new version. I keep switching between them but the results are inconclusive. I need more sunny days for my Tech-Pan to try them out. Great reason for shooting anyway.
The 35/1,8 was the fast wide-angle for Nikon and there was never a production lens in 35mm faster than that. There is a prototype of a 35//1,4 but the success of the Nikon F stopped further developments. This year I did receive a 35/1,2 Nokton from Mr Kobayashi as a gift. It is a S-mount version of the M-mount 35/1,2 and it is actually the only one in the world! With the longer focusing throw of the Nikon I find that it works very well and it certainly has a remarkably high “drool” factor too. It is coming along to the Nikon Historical Society meeting in Vienna in May. Load the camera with Kodak Super-XX and try to emulate Orson Welles in the “Third Man”.
So this was the year that was - 2005. Rarely has a devoted rangefinder user had so many choices and lets see what 2006 will bring. All right I am stocking up on film and bemoaning the loss of Rodinal, although I can make it myself if I need to (and I do).
Copyright 2006 by Tom Abrahamsson All Rights Reserved
Revised: October 29, 2006 . Copyright © 2006 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.